Requiem for 
Tyler Clementi

June Huwa Whiting

© Copyright 2013 by June Huwa Whiting


Photo of Tyler Clementi on cover of People Magazine.

It has been two and a half years since Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge in order to escape betrayal and public humiliation. Why did former Rutgers students Dharun Ravi, Clementi’s roommate, and Molly Wei, Ravi’s friend since middle school, conspire to torment him? What happened to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?

According to trial testimony, Ravi and Wei watched on live video as Clementi and another man had a sexual encounter. Wei testified, “It was shocking. It felt wrong.” But it did not feel wrong enough to prevent her and Ravi from chatting online about what they had seen. It did not feel wrong enough to prevent Wei from showing the streaming video to other people who came into her dorm room.

Wei was originally charged with invasion of privacy. The charge was later dropped in return for her agreement to testify for the prosecution against Ravi, complete 300 hours of community service, participate in cyberbullying counseling and find a job; a small price to pay for tormenting another human being. Ravi did not get off as easily and was convicted on parts of 15 counts against him and faced up to ten years in prison or deportation to his native India. "We had a 20-year-old's life in our hands," said juror Bruno Ferreira of defendant Ravi. "We were deciding his fate." Clementi was young as well, and he decided his own fate, although his decision did not leave room for second chances. Wei is doing community service and participating in counseling, Ravi completed 20 days in jail, and Clementi, a gifted violinist who could have brought so much beautiful music to the world, is dead. Who paid the highest price here?

In a March 23, 2012 interview on ABC’s 20/20, Ravi denied any responsibility for what happened. He told interviewer Chris Cuomo, in reference to plans for spying on Clementi again, "That actually wasn't my idea. This kid, he wanted to see the guy, so he says, 'Oh you should have your web cam like it was on Sunday so I can see who this guy is,” referring to the man who was with Clementi. His Twitter message telling friends it was happening again and daring them to watch was just a case of “fooling around”. He denied he or any of his friends would be interested in seeing two men having a sexual encounter. Yet he was interested enough to spy on the act, intriguing behavior for someone who was not interested in seeing two men having sex. Ravi wanted us to believe it was not his idea, so he was not responsible. He wanted us to believe he was only fooling around, so he was not responsible. He wanted us to believe his behavior was a direct correlation to his being “only” 18 at the time, so he was not responsible.

In view of all this, he could not possibly be responsible for Clementi’s death. To a degree, he is right. He did not hold a loaded gun to Clementi’s head and order him to plunge off the George Washington Bridge. By the same token, no one held a gun to Ravi’s head and ordered him to spy on his roommate and tell his “friends” about it.

Perhaps his parents’ actions after the trial can give us some insight into Ravi’s aversion to accepting responsibility for his behavior. They created an online petition asking the President to address the “fact” the media influenced the court’s decision. The petition had over 4,000 signatures. They insisted their precious son was not biased. What about the Clementi’s precious son?

It was not until his sentencing hearing on May 21 that Ravi apologized:

“I accept responsibility for and regret my thoughtless, insensitive, immature, stupid and childish choices that I made on September 19, 2010 and September 21, 2010. My behavior and actions, which at no time were motivated by hate, bigotry, prejudice or desire to hurt, humiliate or embarrass anyone, were nonetheless the wrong choices and decisions.”

Somehow, Ravi had managed to apologize without actually apologizing. Of course his actions were motivated by a desire to hurt, humiliate, and embarrass Clementi. Without such motivation, the events of September 19 and 21 would never have happened. Ravi pointed out he could not move forward in his life until he finished his “imprisonment.” Ravi and Wei were given a chance to move on with their lives. Clementi chose to end his. With the love and support of family and friends, and with professional help, Clementi, too, may have gotten a chance to move forward, but his chances disappeared that September day on the George Washington Bridge.

After more than two years, the Clementi family’s wound is still fresh, and the world is a poorer place for having lost Tyler. The Clementi family must make do with the apology that was not an apology. We can only hope that someday Ravi and Wei will learn what it is to do unto others as they would have others do unto them.

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